Sermon for the Fourth Sunday of Easter – May 8, 2022

CLICK HERE for a worship video for May 8

The Relationship Grid
Acts 9:36-43, Psalm 23, Revelation 7:9-17, and John 10:22-30
Oak Harbor Lutheran Church
8 May 2022
Chaplain David G. Lura

Our readings from Revelation and Acts can remind us of Holy Week with references to palm branches in the former and a “resurrection” story from the latter.  Actually, the bringing back to life of Tabitha or Dorcas if you prefer reminds me of Mother’s Day observances because she was a woman “abounding with deeds of charity and mercy.”

Like many who preach on this Mother’s Day with these other two texts I feel compelled to reflect on the “shepherd” texts from the 23rd Psalm and John 10 readings.  You have probably heard the story of . . .

A couple retired to a small Arizona ranch and acquired a few sheep. At lambing time, it was necessary to bring two newborns into the house for care and bottle-feeding. As the lambs grew, they began to follow the rancher’s wife around the farm. She was telling a friend about this strange development. “What did you name them?” the friend asked her. “Goodness and Mercy,” she replied with a sigh. She was referring of course the 23rd Psalm where: “goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever” (KJV).

Our two lessons for today refer to sheep or shepherds. It is probably the most familiar image in Scripture. God is a shepherd. We are God’s sheep. Sheep were important to the agricultural lives of the ancient Hebrews. That is perhaps why they are mentioned more than 500 times in the Bible, more than any other animal.

When we read the descriptions of a “good” shepherd, both in the Hebrew scriptures and in the gospels, we must realize, this is not a job description. It’s a spirit description. It’s a relationship grid. God is describing a relationship of a shepherd to a flock that goes way beyond a position that we are assigned or take on for wages. Shepherding, at least the kind God imagines, requires a parental kind of bond, a loving engagement that dreams of the very best for every one of those sheep, a life of nourishment, contentment, joy, and abundance.

Shepherding [like parenting and especially mothering] was and is a dangerous profession. You had to be alert nearly 24/7, and never took a day off, even for sabbath. Not only will sheep easily get distracted and wander away, but the hillsides and forests, even the valleys in Jesus’ day and still today, were filled with predators, each one eagerly waiting for a lamb to wander off alone. Some waited until nightfall to come and steal them away. Still others came in packs and preyed upon the entire flock at once, raiding and carrying them off, bleating and screaming.

To be a shepherd required the utmost attentiveness and attunement to everything going on around you. To be a shepherd meant to guard the gates of the sheepfold, to watch every sheep and lamb as you traveled from here to there as they grazed in the grass, and to be ready to fight to the death if a predator so much as came near.

For King David the metaphor of the sheep and the shepherd was an obvious way to think of our relationship with God. He had vivid memories of life as a young shepherd before he became a warrior and a king. Thus he begins his popular and beloved Psalm 23 with, “The Lord is my Shepherd.”

But David wasn’t the only Old Testament writer to use this imagery. The Prophet Isaiah used sheep to illustrate the waywardness of God’s people. Isaiah writes, “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned everyone to his own way.” Now many of us are probably thinking, how did he know about us? He sure got us right.

And, of course, this descriptive language is carried over into the New Testament, concerning Jesus. He is the ultimate Shepherd of God’s people as well as the unblemished, sacrificial Lamb of God. BANNER BEHIND CHOIR

Now, unless we’ve grown up on a sheep ranch or spent a lot of time at a petting zoo, we’re probably not all that familiar with them.  In any case being described as a sheep is not very flattering although, the truth is, sheep have more right to be offended by the comparison than we do.

Most of us probably prefer to think of ourselves as mavericks, too smart, too free-spirited and individual to go along with any herd. It’s natural, perhaps for Americans in particular, to celebrate qualities that are more characteristic of mules than of sheep.

When most of us think of these woolly creatures, we suppose them to be feeble-minded animals too stupid to think for themselves, and therefore apt to follow along with the rest of the herd, sometimes into dangerous or deadly situations. However, this image of the life of a sheep is based on a lack of understanding. When we get to know a little bit more about them, we can begin to realize that being a good sheep [that is, one that sticks with its flock and tries to remain close to the shepherd] requires some basic qualities that are also essential to being a disciple or true follower of Jesus the Christ. And, like the disciple of Christ, the sheep benefits greatly from belonging to the flock, gaining safety, guidance, nourishment, correction [to be sure] and care, as well as the opportunity to be useful and productive. Being part of the flock is the sheep’s equivalent of that American Express motto where membership has its privileges.

But membership also has its responsibilities. And in our more mule-like character, we are sometimes resistant to those responsibilities. It requires the work of the Holy Spirit to make us into the right kind of sheep to follow Jesus especially those of us who, if you don’t mind a bad pun, are seriously “hard-of-herding.”

We need to ask ourselves, what does being a good sheep require? How can we make sure we’re in the right flock, obeying the Good Shepherd instead of wandering off on our own or following a stray herd? What do we need to know and do as members of Christ’s flock?

Our lesson from John’s Gospel is set during the Festival of Dedication at Jerusalem and is what we know these days as Hanukkah or the Feast of Lights. It’s celebrated for eight days in December.

Jesus is in the temple courts. As he walked, some inquiring Jews came up to him and asked, “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly.”

Jesus answered, “I did tell you, but you do not believe. The works I do in my Father’s name testify about me, but you do not believe because you are not my sheep. My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.”

Notice what Jesus says about his flock.

  1. He says that he knows them individually.This is a beautiful picture of our relationship with God, each of us is known by God.

Story shared earlier with children: The Lord is MY Shepherd

  1. Secondly – Jesus says the sheep listen to his voice.This relationship between sheep and shepherd is not one-sided.

A man in Australia was arrested sometime back and charged with stealing a sheep. But he protested that he owned the sheep and that it had been missing for many days.

When the case went to court, the judge didn’t know how to decide the matter. Finally he asked that the sheep be brought into the courtroom and directed the accuser to step outside and call the animal. As you might guess the sheep made no response except to raise its head and look frightened.

The judge then instructed the defendant to go to the courtyard and do the same.  The sheep responded immediately having recognized the familiar voice of his master. “His sheep knows him,” said the judge. “Case dismissed!”

So let’s ponder this question: is this imagery descriptive of our relationship with Christ? Do we listen to his voice?

I believe most of us can agree that we are great talkers when it comes to our devotional life but are not very good listeners. We give God our orders for the day, but we are not committed to reverently listening to the orders God has for us. Christ says he knows his sheep, but then he adds, “and they listen to my voice.”

  1. Then he says his sheep follow him.

Author Neal Andersen contends that those of us who live in the western world don’t have a correct picture of what it means to be led like sheep. Western shepherds tend to drive their sheep from behind the flock, often using dogs to bark at their heels. Eastern shepherds, like those in Bible times, lead their sheep from in front.

Andersen tells about watching a shepherd on a hillside outside Bethlehem. The shepherd sat on a rock while the sheep grazed. After a time he stood up, said a few words to the sheep and walked away. The sheep followed him. It was fascinating! Andersen says the words of Jesus in this passage suddenly took on new meaning for him, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.”

We can judge whether a person is a disciple of Christ by how well he or she follows. Many of us want the benefits of belonging to Christ’s flock to be known completely and intimately by God without the responsibility of listening to Christ and following him daily. We want to know him as our Savior without having him as our Master.

Jesus is well aware of our weakness and our waywardness, so he adds this final word of Grace: Christ says that no one can snatch his sheep from him.

You and I know what it meant. “The Lord is My shepherd.” Jesus, the Good Shepherd knows us by name. We are to listen for his voice and follow him, knowing that he will provide for every need.

The Apostle Paul says it best in his letter to the Romans chapter 8 . . .

31b  If God is for us, who can ever be against us? 39b  nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.

This is his promise to his people, the sheep of his pasture.

Pastor David Lura

Baby Bottle Boomerang

Baby Bottle Boomerang

The Pregnancy Care Clinic (PCC) in Oak Harbor is a ministry providing care and support for women and men experiencing unexpected pregnancies, providing free ultrasounds, counseling, and material support in the form of diapers, clothing, strollers, and more. OHLC member Morrie Parker serves on the board of the PCC. This year, we are once again participating in their community-wide fundraiser, the Baby Bottle Boomerang. Those interested in donating to our local PCC may pick up a PCC baby bottle in our narthex on or after Mother’s Day (May 8). Take it home, fill it with change, cash, and/or a check, and return it on (or by) Father’s Day (June 19).

Adult Bible Study

Adult Bible Study

Adult Bible study is being held in the church library on Sunday mornings from 9:15-10:15. We are currently studying the lectionary readings for the Easter season from the book of Acts. If you’d like to read ahead, here are the readings we will be studying:

May 1: Acts 9:1-20 The Conversion of Saul

May 8: NO CLASS (Mother’s Day Tea)

May 15: Acts 11:1-18 Peter’s Peculiar Picnic

May 22: Acts 16:9-15 Lydia, Fashionista and Christian

May 29: Acts 16:16-34 The Jailbreak That Wasn’t

OHLC MERCH NOW AVAILABLE

OHLC MERCH NOW AVAILABLE

We have partnered with Ashley’s Design to offer a wide variety of OHLC gear, including hoodies, polo shirts, ¼ zip and crewneck sweatshirts, t-shirts (including ladies cut), mugs, and tumblers!

We are selling these at cost so you can wear them as conversation starters! The store will be open through the end of May, and we will receive our orders in June.

Click the web address below to place your order:
https://www.ashleysdesign.com/ohlc/shop/home

You can also call the church office for help with placing an order: 679-1561.

Sermon for the Third Sunday of Easter – May 1, 2022

CLICK HERE for a worship video for May 1

Sermon for the Third Sunday in Easter – May 1, 2022

John 21:1-19

Dear friends, grace to you and peace from God our Father and our risen Lord Jesus Christ.

Let’s review just where we are in the Easter story on this third Sunday in the Easter season. The women found the tomb empty. Mary Magdalene saw the risen Jesus, and told Peter and the others about it. Jesus appeared to the disciples that evening, showing himself to them, and then he came back again a week later to show himself to Thomas. The disciples believed that Christ was risen. They had received the Spirit. They received the peace of Christ and confessed that he was their Lord and their God. And now, as we pick up the story today, we find that they had gone home. They returned to Galilee and went back to work, back to their jobs as fishermen.

Sometimes people fault the disciples for doing this, but I don’t think that’s really the point. After all, isn’t that what you did? After Easter Sunday worship, didn’t you go home? After our Sunday services in the Easter season so far, didn’t you go back to work on Monday? We believe that Christ is risen. We have received the Holy Spirit. We know the peace of Christ and confess that he is our Lord and God, but we too return to our homes and to our work. And that’s not wrong. Those are our God-given vocations. That’s where we live out our faith.

But Peter and the others not only returned to his home and to his work, he also found himself returning once again to the disappointments of daily life in the world. He worked hard casting his nets all night long, and caught nothing. He was skunked. Was the high of Easter tamped down somewhat by the struggles of daily life in the world? Probably. Was the joy of the resurrection diluted down a bit now by disappointment? Perhaps. Was the peace Christ brought now threatened by an anxiety that was creeping back in? I’d be surprised if it wasn’t.

But thankfully, Jesus kept showing up. Jesus showed himself again in Galilee! Jesus met them when they were back at home, when they were back at work! Jesus knew exactly what was going on in their lives. “Children, you have no fish, have you?” And this Lord of all creation, the same Lord who spoke creation into being, now filled their nets with fish. As they made their way to the shore with their 153 fish, Jesus called them to himself, saying, “Come, have breakfast.”

It is specifically noted that the disciples gathered with Jesus around a charcoal fire. This is more than just attention to detail. Remember, it was beside a charcoal fire that Peter denied knowing Jesus three times. John, the writer, by dropping in that little detail, is, in a sense, bringing us back to the scene of the crime. If the charcoal fire doesn’t make this obvious enough, Jesus asks Peter three times if he loves him, giving him three opportunities to confess his faith, effectively undoing his previous three denials. You see, even Peter’s worst sin couldn’t keep Jesus away. Jesus kept showing up!

Isn’t it wonderful to have people in your life who keep showing up? I hope you have someone like this in your life. Our sister in Christ Anabelle Mitchell has had a hard time these last couple of weeks with the hospitalization and then the death of her husband, our brother Lee. And you know who keeps showing up? Her friend, Barb Wilson. I went to see Lee in the hospital last week, and they almost didn’t let me in. They told me Lee was only allowed one visitor, and it was his wife. I told them I was their pastor, and they still wouldn’t let me in. Finally, I told them their own hospital chaplain called the church and asked me to come, and finally they let me in. Well, I went up to the second floor and talked my way past the floor nurse and got into the room, and not only was Anabelle sitting there, but Barb was there too! How the heck did she get in? Well, she showed up for her friend. I still don’t know how she did it, but she did! And since then, Barb keeps on showing up.

My godmother was present at my baptism, and she has kept on showing up in my life. She was my mom’s best friend, and when my mom died, she showed up at her apartment the day my sister and I were there to clean it out. She has kept on showing up too. In fact, she showed up in Oak Harbor on Thursday to have lunch with me.

I hope you have people in your life who keep on showing up, especially amidst the disappointments and the struggles of life in this world. I hope you can be the person who keeps showing up for someone else. If you need someone to show up during a hard season in your life we have Stephen Minsters here at church who, though they go through a lot of training as care givers, have as their main job just to simply show up for you. We as a church want to be a community who shows up for one another.

It is three weeks after Easter and our lives have probably returned to normal. We’ve all gone back home and back to work, and we’ve probably returned to some of the disappointments and the struggles of daily life in the world as well. There are all kinds of different challenges and hardships that are part of life in this world which have perhaps tempered the joy you felt on Easter morning. Many are concerned about increasingly empty nets as inflation continues to be a problem. The peace of Christ is always threated by worries that come creeping in. It has been a hard week at Oak Harbor Lutheran Church as we have learned of the deaths of two of our members, Lee Mitchell and Gene Verburg. Even as we continue to celebrate that Jesus has indeed ultimately conquered death by his glorious resurrection, it continues to bring grief and heartache. As St. Paul said, the last enemy to be destroyed is death.

What God’s Word has to tell us today is that we have a Lord and a God who keeps on showing up. This risen Lord we are celebrating this Easter season is a Lord who keeps on showing up as we return to our homes and to our work. This risen Lord knows exactly what our problems are, and he keeps on showing up amidst our empty nets and our disappointments and our worries and our heartaches. Even our worst sins can’t keep Jesus from showing up! Just as Jesus met Peter beside a charcoal fire, at the symbolic scene of the crime, so too does he show up for you with grace and mercy. He shows up to restore you, to call a confession of faith out of you, and to give your life meaning and purpose as you share his love with others at home, at work, and in the nitty gritty of daily life.

Our risen Lord Jesus was there at your baptism as you were joined to him as your Lord and savior. And because he is a risen Lord, he will continue to show up your whole life long, over and over again. In fact, he is showing up for you here today. He shows himself to us through Word and Sacrament. He shows up with his forgiveness and his love.  He calls us to himself, gathering us around the table he has set for us, saying, “Come, and have breakfast.”

Thanks be to God. Amen.

Rev. Jeffrey R. Spencer

Oak Harbor Lutheran Church